In truth, I stumbled upon Coro Pittsburgh’s Running for Public Office (RPO): Emerging Leaders in Public Service course. Coro Pittsburgh was mentioned in a piece in local online magazine Pop City on getting involved in local politics last Fall, and I was intrigued. Having recently moved from Chicago, where I had volunteered for years for progressive political magazine In These Times, I was looking to get a better understanding of local politics and see how I could get involved. After researching Coro Pittsburgh and the RPO course, I decided it looked like a perfect opportunity to learn more. And, I can now verify, it was that and more!
While several of my classmates had been involved in political campaigns or run for public office in Pittsburgh before, I had little similar experience as a recent transplant. I was extremely pleased to find out that, thanks to the structure of the course and the professionalism and attentiveness of course facilitators Tom Baker and Iysha Evelyn, my relative newness to politics in Allegheny County was not a liability at all. Both Tom and Iysha fostered an environment of openness that allowed our questions to drive the course and were always careful to make sure everyone was on the same page.
I was also very appreciative of the non-partisan approach of the course, which allowed many different political perspectives to be heard and respected, while at the same time allowing a very concrete learning experience about how to run a campaign. Each week, we reflected on a new question in a self-evaluation questionnaire on running for public office, covering everything from how we might fundraise, to who was in our personal network and how they might aid us in our run for office, to how to get out the vote on election day.
The Mock Election, our major class project, also was helpful in giving us a sense of what is required in a real race and fostered a close interaction with fellow-classmates that led to many rewarding and informative discussions. The final Mock Election debate, held in the City Council chambers, was a great capstone to the course.
By far the most helpful and exciting part of RPO for me, however, were our weekly interviews. Each week, a selection of local politicians, campaign managers, journalists and political consultants, to name a few, came to our class. Hearing them speak about their experience in local politics and re-live war stories from past campaigns was an invaluable crash course in the history and inner workings of politics in Allegheny County. I feel I learned more about Pittsburgh politics from these interviews over the three months of RPO, than many native Pittsburghers may have gleaned from a lifetime of living in the city. If you are considering running for public office, or are even curious about how politics works in Pittsburgh, I cannot recommend the chance to participate in this course, enough!
Since finishing RPO, my resolve to run for political office, and get involved in local campaigning, is even stronger than before. I am currently volunteering for my City Councilman’s re-election campaign, and hope to be involved in other local races as well. The friendships and connections I made at RPO and Coro Pittsburgh were a truly invaluable first step in becoming connected to the local political community, and I hope to continue to develop these connections going forward.